Bad PR Move By British Embassy in Washington

25 08 2014

Bad PR Move By British Embassy in Washington 

A few days after a man with a British accent beheaded a US citizen on YouTube, the British Embassy misused Twitter in a spectacularly bad way by making a joking reference to the burning of the White House in the War of 1812. 

: Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!


The tweet generated an immediate and hostile reaction from Americans. Judging by the twitter handles and avatar images, many of the offended individuals are fans of the Tea Party and the NRA. See here, here. and here.

The British Embassy later issued a grovelling apology for the tweet.

The tasteless tweet was made at a poolside party that featured a White House cake (see above). My guess is that a British embassy employee with a smartphone in one hand and a beer in another thought it would be a funny thing to post on twitter. 

Talk about bad PR! It’s also out of character for the British diplomatic corps, which had avoided any displays of triumphalism in its recent commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War: although one individual in the British Cabinet (Education Secretary Michael Gove) spoke about the First World War as a conflict between good and evil, the UK’s Foreign Office’s commemoration depicted the outbreak of the war as a terrible tragedy caused by bumbling politicians of many different nationalities. This non-jingoistic approach to remembering 1914 doubtless helps Britain’s relations with its EU trading partners today.

I note with interest that the Canadian government has discontinued its commemorations of the War of 1812, likely out of fear of antagonizing its largest trading partner. 



2 responses

25 08 2014

Meh, I am a U.S. American & I thought the “sparklers” Tweet was a little funny. (Mostly just silly, but perfectly innocuous.) But then, I’m a historian & not a diplomat, so I recognize that our senses of humor and of propriety are different, or should be.

I blogged about the bicentennial of the torching of Washington yesterday myself at My favorite account of the firing of the President’s House is a recent sardonic account by a historian who sets the scene as though the British officers were invited guests at a dinner party rather than a conquering force.

26 08 2014

I suspect that most college-educated Americans and people living in Blue States wouldn’t have a problem with the sparkler cake. I don’t think anyone in the State Department was offended by this. The problem is that the Red State, hyper-patriotic NRA-types who went crazy over this tweet represent a sizeable proportion of the electorate.

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